Two summers ago, surviving members of the Grateful Dead Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart announced Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years of the Grateful Dead. The boys tapped Phish frontman Trey Anastasio to fill in as the lead guitarist and Bruce Hornsby to play keys for the three night July 4th run at Chicago’s Soldier Field. Recently, Weir, Hart and Kreutzmann called on the pop/blues/jazz singer/songwriter John Mayer and Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers bassist) to form Dead & Company, which is currently the only touring band that is continuing the legacy that the Grateful Dead left behind. But in the last few years on top of figuring out the line-up for various Dead concerts, Weir has been working on a solo collection of songs he’s called “cowboy songs.”
The supporting cast for Blue Mountain, Weir’s first solo album in over a decade, includes music and lyric teamwork from folk superstar songwriter Josh Ritter, and Josh Kaufman, known for his work with Ritter and the indie alt rock band The National. Kaufman produced the album and Aaron Dessner, Bryan and Scott Devendorf of the National and Joe Russo are other noteworthy musicians that contributed to the fruition of the album. This weekend Weir’s campfire tour performed a two night stand at the recently refurbished Kings Theater and the energy inside the venue was absolutely pulsing.
Weir opened up the night with three solo acoustic songs. First he played Easy to Slip a song written by Little Feat, and then strummed into a mellow rendition of Loose Lucy which is normally a Grateful Dead upbeat, dancy number. It was interesting to see acoustic versions of these songs and hear Weir’s gentle take on louder rockier songs. His last solo acoustic song in the first set was the title track of the album Blue Mountain. He brought the full band out for a powerful, western vibe rendition of Lay My Lily Down which is a highlight from the new batch of songs. Other set highlights included my favorite track (Gonesville) from the new album and a slower, more emphatic version of Only A River. Every time I hear these songs another time I can’t help but hear more and more of Josh Ritter’s style and influence in the song. To end the first set the band performed Big River a Johnny Cash cover which also made plenty of Grateful Dead set lists over the years.
The complete second set was filled with Dead songs and Dead covers and didn’t feature any Weir solo songs. While the main focus of this campfire tour is to support the solo collection of songs recorded for Blue Mountain, the former Grateful Dead member continues to keep that music alive by playing it with different musicians live on stage. The set opened up with On the Road Again by Memphis Jug Band and Rosa Lee McFall by Charlie Monroe. Then Weir called up special guest Leslie Mendelson, NY based Grammy nominated recording artist, to help sing the Grateful Dead classic Brown-Eyed Women. Leslie stayed on for Cassidy an older solo Bob Weir song that still made many Grateful Dead set lists back in the day. To finish the set the band performed Standing on the Moon, another Grateful Dead classic and Goin Down the Road Feelin Bad a Henry Whitter cover that Weir played numerous times with the Grateful Dead.
Weir came back out for a solo acoustic encore to play one of the new songs Ki-Yi Bossie and in true Grateful Dead form the full band came back on to perform a rocking version of Friend of the Devil. Bob Weir is truly a folkie, singer/songwriter at heart, but he’s never hesitant to use the stage as a platform to continue the legacy of his groundbreaking and unforgettable band The Grateful Dead.
Words by Scott J. Herman
Image by Bill Kelly